Australia has been warned it could miss out on an influx of foreign doctors needed to fill gaps in our medical system by the peak group of GPs.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has called on the government to make it easier for overseas trained doctors to move to Australia in order to prevent the GP shortage from worsening.
The chair of RACGP’s rural council associate professor Michael Clements told the Joint Standing Committee on Migration that Australia is in stiff competition with other wealthy nations for doctors.
“We are heavily reliant on overseas trained doctors for the foreseeable future and it’s our quickest opportunity to fill some of the gaps where we need the most,” he told the committee.
“And at the moment we are in absolute competition with places like Canada and New Zealand and Ireland in looking for these overseas trained doctors.
“So if we don’t do better, we’re actually going to miss out.”
Australia is currently facing a shortage of GPs, with the Australian Medical Association projecting a shortage of more than 10,600 doctors by 2031-32, a position that is “unimaginable” according to the group’s president Professor Steve Robson.
“We simply should not be in this position, but it’s clear the shortsighted policies of successive Commonwealth governments have failed the community,” he said in November 2022.
A/Professor Clements said that the issue was particularly stark in rural areas, where more than 50 per cent of the workforce obtained their medical degree overseas.
“We are expecting an over an overwork burden with a shortage of GPS probably in the order of 11,000 GPS that are needed in addition to what we‘ve got now over the next 10 years.”
The RACGP is calling for less red tape in getting overseas doctors into roles in Australia and for the removal of a moratorium that forces them to stay in regional areas for 10 years before being able to move to a major city.
“We think that the 10 year moratorium policy on that restricts overseas trained doctors is archaic and needs to change.”
He said that the government should opt for the “carrot approach” to getting doctors into remote areas.
“We want to see rural and remote communities that desperately need these doctors to be able to offer packages, housing, spousal employment, childcare, everything from community welcoming, appropriate churches for their faith, those kinds of draw cards, drawing doctors to where they need to be, as opposed to a compulsory forced service, which will often put doctors in places that they don’t want to go,” he said.
A/Professor Clements said each community should look at what they can offer a doctor to get them into the town, highlighting unusual bonuses such as extra time for leisure activities.
“I do some work in Karumba. And if I guarantee some fishing time, we’re going to get a doctor,” he said.
“I offered a pilot’s license to a doctor to come and join me in my remote town and that worked and so we’ve got a doctor straight after that.
“He’s got the pilot’s license now.”
He urged governments to consider whether a lack of facilities like childcare or religious centres could also be keeping interested doctors away.